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Cristiano Ronaldo’s Chelsea snub and Roy Keane’s failed task outline Man Utd’s woes


Cristiano Ronaldo watched on from the bench the last time Manchester United and Chelsea squared off with his return to Old Trafford not going as planned ahead of an uncertain summer

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester return has not gone as planned

It was headline news when Cristiano Ronaldo was named on the bench for the first Manchester United Premier League game post-Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Michael Carrick filled the void short-term and needed to steady the ship after a sharp decline under the Norwegian. His first major move as boss was to snub the club’s iconic No 7 for a trip to Stamford Bridge – a contest that it is hard to fathom Ronaldo being overlooked for.

The Portuguese superstar made a hero’s return to Old Trafford, bolstering a side that had finished second the previous season. But within months the fanfare had turned to trepidation and Ronaldo was facing the harsh reality of rotation, something he’d not been forced to deal with before.

Solskjaer left him on the bench for a draw earlier in the season against Everton. It resulted in a strop from the player himself as he trudged off before Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to condemn Solskjaer’s selection decision. Ronaldo’s goal output was hard to question, but already his presence appeared to upset the dynamics of the team.

Carrick handed him just under half an hour in west London as Jorginho’s penalty ruled out Jadon Sancho’s opener. Ronaldo only had a yellow card to show for his efforts as he again did little to hide his emotions as he walked off at full-time, despite United claiming a deserved point.

The decision to omit Ronaldo from the starting XI is a microcosm of United’s season when it comes to selection, tactics and systems. Teams have been picked on an ad hoc basis with no clear vision. Whether it be a 5-3-2 at Tottenham in October that worked, a five-man backline at Liverpool that flopped or failing to implement a false nine in the derby.

Cristiano Ronaldo was overlooked for selection against Chelsea earlier this season



United have made it up as they go along, with Ronaldo often featuring. Chelsea are next up and will head to Old Trafford as favourites, which may force Ralf Rangnick to find some short-term solutions as he seeks to amend a poor run of results. When the full-time whistle blew in United’s clash with the Blues earlier this season they were sat in eighth – 12 points off the top and results were covering for poor performances. Ronaldo was copping more flack than his teammates, but he had his defenders.

Keane’s defence

Roy Keane was among those to see a young Ronaldo begin to blossom at Old Trafford following his arrival in 2003. He played alongside the raw winger for just over a year and has continued to rave about his brilliance, previously referencing him as the greatest of all-time.

For some the decision to sign Ronaldo was fuelled by a fear he could go to Manchester City coupled with some kind of romantic notion. For Keane though, it was a no brainer, and bringing back a player who’d achieved what he had was always going to be advantageous.

Roy Keane was adamant that signing the Portugal superstar was the right move


Sky Sports)

Jamie Carragher was among those to adopt the former view and went toe-to-toe with the Irishman. He said on Sky Sports: “Are Man United closer to the title right now than they were last season? No.” He also added: “If you finish 2nd and you then sign Ronaldo at 36, you’re not going to win the League in four years. If you sign someone at 36 it’s to win right now.”

Keane though hit back, insisting that some perspective was required. “Ronaldo was never going to get United back to winning titles,” he claimed, before continuing: “Go back to winning the FA Cup. They got through to the next round of the Champions League, how much you think that’s worth to the club. The Glazers and share prices- that’s what he’s come back for!”

A sorry state of affairs

Winning the FA Cup, or any cup competition for that matter, is currently far more realistic for United than league success. They’ve claimed three cup trophies since their last Premier League triumph – one coming under Louis van Gaal and two under Jose Mourinho.

However that total was not added to this season, despite Keane citing that as justification for bringing Ronaldo back to the club. The Portugal star hasn’t finished a season without a trophy for over a decade but will do so this season after United’s embarrassing FA Cup exit.

Championship side Middlesbrough upset the odds to win on the road in the fourth round back in February, securing their success in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw. Ronaldo missed from the spot in normal time, failing to even hit the target as his difficult second coming in Manchester continued.

Hopes of silverware rested on Champions League glory, despite the Red Devils being among the unfancied sides in the last 16. A 1-1 draw in Spain was followed by a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford as Atletico Madrid ended Ronaldo’s dream of a sixth European crown.

Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to deliver any silverware

It looks as if the No 7 will be unable to add to that tally next season either, certainly not at United. He has played in three of their last four away day defeats, the latest coming at Arsenal on Saturday, which has all but ended their top four hopes with time running out. Ronaldo may have helped United reach the knockout stages of this competition, but he hasn’t helped in their quest to be their next season. A team that finished eight points clear of fifth place last season are now facing another Europa League campaign – at best.

The motives and hopes for Ronaldo’s return remain subjective, with no one from within the club stating what the intention or ambition was. Keane seemed firm in his belief that a player of his ilk was coming back to deliver silverware, even if the league was beyond them. If that was his remit, it has been a failed move.

What next?

The only certainty at Old Trafford next season is that Erik ten Hag will be calling the shots. The Dutchman’s move from Ajax was confirmed recently and he will attempt to arrest the slide of the red half of Manchester. His long-term project is clear – get United back challenging and win league titles.

Erik ten Hag is the man tasked with rebuilding Man Utd



Keane, who labelled his former side as a cup team given their current state of affair, admits topping the Premier League is sometime away. He said: “Look at the team look at the league, look at the last two or three years they won’t win the league for the two or three years, I’ll tell you that.”

For all Ronaldo’s brilliance he has only won four league titles in 12 seasons, which will soon become four in 13 once this campaign ends. Ten Hag’s imminent arrival has bought with it an uncertainty when it comes to Ronaldo’s future. His style at Ajax does not lend itself to the traits and habits of a 37-year-old forward.

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